Well that was a strange game.
We started on the front foot and looked confident and dangerous. Odegaard had a great opportunity to put us ahead in the third minute but scuffed a first-time shot wide. Three minutes later an Aubameyang header from a Bellerin cross was tipped onto the crossbar by Sa, the Olimpiacos ‘keeper.
You felt it was only a matter of time before our dominance would lead to a goal.
As we all know, however, those are just the kind of occasions when Arsenal are at their most vulnerable.
Clown Car Moment #1: With the Greeks struggling to make any opportunities of their own, we thought we would help them out. Odegaard set up a great chance for the Olimpiacos No 27 Bruma with a perfectly placed ‘no look’ pass into the inside right channel. (By ‘no look’ I mean the Norwegian didn’t bother looking to see if there might be any risk in playing a weak ball across the front of his own penalty area). Fortunately Bruma swept it straight at Leno.
Having failed with our first kamikaze attempt, we finally got the goal our pressure deserved, Odegaard making amends by blasting a rocket of a shot past Sa. I have seen it said that Sa flapped at it, but that shot was hit with vicious power and swerved before dipping right at the end. I don’t think the goalie had a chance.
One nil up away from home, time to start managing the game and taking no risks, right?
Haha – you know what’s coming.
Clown Car Moment #2: A few minutes after we’d taken the lead, David Luiz, deep in his own penalty area, took a heavy touch then inexplicably attempted to play the ball across his own goal with an attacker, Masouras, literally two feet away from him. Fortunately for Arsenal Masouras blasted the ball high over the bar from the edge of the six yard box. With just a modicum of composure he could have passed it into the net.
Half time came with a strange combination of emotions: satisfaction at being ahead and having scored an away goal; disappointment at not having converted more of our opportunities and relief at the fact that our best efforts to gift Olimpiacos a goal had come to nothing.
The Greeks started the second half with more purpose and 12 minutes after the restart you could hear the sound of honking horns and discordant klaxons as a certain vehicle took to the pitch again.
Clown Car Moment #3: Leno received a back pass just outside his area. He had all the time in the world to clear it up field or pass to a safe area. Instead the German played it straight down the middle to Dani Ceballos, who was facing his own goal and had three Olimpiacos players in close attention. Ceballos took a bad touch and was dispossessed, with Leno still miles off his line. El Arabi was able to pass into the empty goal from the edge of the D. The Greeks were level.
By this point most Arsenal supporters could scarcely believe what they were watching. We were bossing the game while at the same time jabbing a sharpened pencil in our eye every chance we got.
I wouldn’t say my heart had sunk, but at this stage it was definitely holed below the waterline and wallowing badly.
But we are nothing if not unpredictable. With 10 minutes of normal time remaining Gabriel, who was having a very good game, rose with power and determination to meet a Willian cross and direct a long, looping header into the goal. There was a nervy moment with the Olimpiacos defender trying to get it disallowed by feigning a head injury, but the goal stood.
Then, five minutes later, the substitute Elneny fired home a third from long range to cement an excellent result and put us in a very strong position for the return leg.
I, for one, was not sure quite what to feel at the final whistle. Certainly I was delighted with the scoreline, but the continued evidence of our shoot-ourselves-in-the-foot tendencies was quite alarming.
After a succession of suicidal unforced mistakes in recent games up to and including last Saturday, you would think the players would be prioritising error elimination above all else. Yet here we were making three truly terrible unforced blunders in just one game. Thank goodness we’re in the EL and not the Champions League, because a decent team would have punished all three of those cock-ups.
I generally approve of what Arteta is doing and I can see improvements in our style of play. But if El Patron does not get on top of this error problem then he has to go, it’s as simple as that. We simply cannot progress when any good work we do at the pointy end is liable to be immediately undermined by stupidity at the blunt end. I have no idea how the problem can be fixed (we have regularly speculated about it hereabouts), but fixed it must be – and urgently.
We have a particularly resonant league fixture coming up on Sunday. If we decide to wheel out the clown car against the Spuds, can you really see Kane, Bale and Son failing to take the chances we give them?
For now, though, let’s celebrate a very good result putting us in pole position to make it through to the last eight of the Europa League.
Leno – 5
At least partly to blame for the Olimpiacos goal. That’s two in two games where the German has contributed to gifting the opponents a goal. It has to stop.
Bellerin – 6.5
No major errors and made a couple of good opportunities for his team mates at the attacking end. I still feel he could be more adventurous going forward at times.
Luiz – 5
Did his best to gift Olimpiacos a goal but was pretty solid apart from that.
Gabriel – 8 MoTM
Dominant defensively and scored with a terrific header at a time when we really needed a goal.
Tierney – 7
Made some good opportunities with his trademark runs to the byline and crosses, particularly early on.
Partey – 7
Good all-round performance, apart from one rugby conversion of a shot.
Xhaka – 6.5
Left the clown car duties to others in this game and put in a solid shift.
Saka – 6.5
Some good moments but his form has dipped a little in the last couple of games, perhaps through tiredness. But even at sub-par he is still one of our best players.
Odegaard – 7.5
Missed a sitter early on, almost gifted a goal to the opposition and in the first half hour was really slowing down our play. But after scoring an outstanding goal he seemed to grow in confidence and influence and had a great 50+ minutes. Very promising.
Willian – 6
His recent outings have moved from the “abysmal’ category to the “OK” category. That’s progress, I suppose.
Aubameyang – 6.5
A couple of good opportunities for the captain, including a header tipped onto the bar, but he also spent long periods uninvolved.
Ceballos – 4.5
Takes too many touches. Gifted a goal to the opposition. No need to extend his loan or consider buying him after this season.
Pepe – 6
Got 13 minutes and did some Pepe stuff.
Elneny – 7
Go Mo Go! Came on to shore up the midfield and protect our 2-1 lead, but ended up making the tie a lot more secure by scoring a belter.
Smith Rowe – 6
I just like watching him on and off the ball.
” a decent team would have punished all three of those cock ups”. Totteringham?
Nothing to disagree with your report Rocky.Like LB and you, I was much happier with Partey’s efforts than some.
Biggest question outstanding however is where is Smith-Rowe and Martinelli? Saka needs his youthful mates since his shoulders are sagging.
Good point about ESR LBG.
I was going to mention in the piece that Saka looks better when he has ESR and Laca playing around him.
Odegaard impressed me after his calamitous start, but he’s a very different type of player to ESR and they could probably both function in the same line-up.
Agree with your last paragraph regarding a BOdegaard and Smith-Rowe, but only in a 4141 formation, requiring Saka and, in my opinion, Martinelli to drop in alongside Partey left and right when we dont have the ball…….and NOT against Totteringham.
I like that LBG
Cedric – Holding – Gabriel – Tierney
Saka – ESR – Odegaard – Martinelli/Auba
That’s it Rocky!
Disappointed in Mikel’s determination, it seems, to continue with approach from back, putting pressure back on players to “choose the right time”. These players have no confidence, lose concentration, have given the opposition on a plate, 7 of our 14 goals against this season. Mikel believes they can learn when and when not. I don’t and think he is confusing our defenders with Manshitty’s.
When u see Leno make does stupid mistake I always think how in earth we let emi go
“Clown Car” very funny.
I think the Ceballos and Odegaard are proof as to how well the loan system is working.
We are in the rare position of being able to say good bye to Danny at the end of the season without having to take a massive financial hit to move him on via a transfer.
And Odegaard maybe a precocious talent but it is not clear that Arsenal should push the boat out to sign him, again the advantage of him being with us on loan.
Ooh, and while I am on the subject, would we take up the option to sign Pepe for 70 mil if he was just on loan?
I still prefer pepe start over odegard
If Pepe was a loanee I would be interested in us buying him…
…if the price was in the £20-25m range.
£72m? Not on your Neny.
I thought that every schoolboy knows not to pass the ball across your own goal, Fullstop. Why highly paid professionals to continue to do so is beyond my comprehension.
The playing out from the back is proving to be a disaster and whilst we continue to do it, we will continue to hand over easy chances to our opponents.
I suggest that Leno gets a new pair of glasses if he is unable to spot opposing payers standing near someone he is passing to.
I suspect that ESR’s season is virtually over, apart from the occasional cameo.
His style does not suit Arteta in the slightest, who will prefer Willian and Odegard every time. Arteta needs his players to do exactly what they are told. ESR represent the Exiled One’s style of inspired off the cuff play which Arteta simply does not want.
Did we once have a player called Martinell? Sounds familiar but I think that must be a figment of our collective imaginations.
We are losing money hand over fist, so are we likely to pay big money for Odegard or anyone?
Also, do we not have a hefty instalment to pay on that other great star, Pepe?
Like maybe things in life time changes things.
The football we watch today is very different from the football we grew up with. I remember when Lukic would roll the ball to a defender walk to edge of area and pick ball up again just to get to the edge of the area for his kick because you couldn’t take more than 4 steps, this was stopped by a rule change that meant it couldn’t go straight back (ie it had to go to two defenders) and then back passes gone altogether and suddenly keepers were expected to kick the ball off the floor, as they could drop the ball at their feet and walk to the edge of the area before launching it long after a quick game of cat and mouse with a centre forward. The throw out to feet was reserved for when players were in open space and the opposition full back/winger had left his duties.
What I am getting at is that the game changes, and today it is far removed from the football any of us played and watched as kids, no 1 being that rule not to play it across your box. Or to faff around at the back. I get why we do it, but players have to be perfect every time, and even a soft press is enough to put some of our players in trouble. Yesterday’s goal came as much from Ceba’s say terrible touch as it did Leon’s pass, the same as at Burnley, but if I was Leno I would not be looking to pass out from the back of players were not in space, I also probably wouldn’t keep my shirt.
For me the ball in my half of the pitch gives more chance to the opposition scoring, and I’d rather lump it up for a 50:50 that gives my defence a chance to reset. But therein lies the issue, we haven’t got anyone apart from Laca and Martinelli who convert those 50:50s into 70:30s they more often than not become 20:80’s in favour of the opposition which means we haven’t got the ball anymore or we are expecting our midfield to win the knock down. That’s the only reason I can think that Arteta is persisting with playing the ball out from the back, yes it takes longer, yes there is a 1:10 chance of a clown moment but when we get the ball in their half we have the ball and are able to play the patterns he wants so instead of the hit and hope 50:50 chance of having possession in their half of the pitch it is more like 90:10 chance of having possession. Obviously what is then done with possession is the important part.
Again I don’t find this dissimilar to many modern managers, when they changed the goal kick rule a few years back I had zero expectation that players would start coming back in to the area to actually receive the ball, I just figured it would potentially mean a quick goal kick could be used to start a counter attack. Every team was doing it, and many still do. Again alien to how I was ever coached.
The final thing I’d say is it is very easy to tell the players that are comfortable and those that are uncomfortable with the way we play, those that play in one or two touches are those that are most comfortable those that take two three four touches within space of 5 yards before passing sideways they are the ones who have to go. They do not see the passes quickly enough, and mainly I am looking at Ceba and Xhaka here and to a certain extent our centre halves. I can only liken their responsibility to that of a QB in the NFL, after the snap the QB has three passing options, the play will be designed for each of those options in priority, the best QBs judge those options very early and pass to those that are open, unlike footballers they don’t really get the option to dump it sideways to another player to play the pass. By the time Ceba has decided it’s time to pass sideways that player has the same rubbish options in front of him. Speed of thought speed of touch and speed of movement all need to dramatically improve from our defence to midfield if we are going to be able to play this style with any confidence.
One final thought, we are making these mistakes without pressure of crowd, can you imagine what the current lot would be like in an away game with a raucous hone crowd cheering their team to chase us down, or at home with the sound of 60,000 breaths drawn at once as Leno chips it over an attacker to a defender shit down by an opponent.
This is a very humorous post!
GIE right on point, modern game has evolved, however there needs to be some analysis by Mikel and co.
One being that Leno can’t play it up the middle by pass to Xhaka or Dani if covered by 2-3 of the closing opposition. He has to go wide, either fake the middle pass and go directly wide, diagonal or long. will cut down the errors. Perfect example was Leno played the ball almost to midfield to Xhaka at full pace, both, an oxymoron at best, we all know what happened. It was a good thought, but we do not have the players to capitalize on that time and space, if playing to Xhaka, El Neny, Dani or Ode, maybe Partey.
Ode is a clever player and he does more that many think he does, he draws defenders towards him to create space, but is not as direct and quick as ESR.
Saka needs a rest soon, and he plays much better with ESR, but they should, they have more time together than Ode and Saka.
Let’s get ready to rumble on Sunday.
Good to read, sir
I dont think it is a coincidence that the last two incidences involved Xhaka and Dani. Not only do they need three /four touches often to control/set for next pass, but both are slow of thought and body.
Whilst I understand Fred’s “passion” for Martinez, I think Leno problem is one of character. He is the quiet, non-dominant, sometimes lacking in confidence type. (Imagine Lehmann doing similar! Not a chance!) Perhaps Martinez is a more flamboyant, confident type who would make up his own mind. Did we witness anything similar while Martinez was playing?
Nothing similar when emi was playing for use,
Also at Villa dey do play out from the back and not once has he made a blunder like that in all the games I saw
I think the difference with us and other teams is that the defense know we will one time or the other buss on the the pressure , with other teams I really see that much closing down